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they profess an ardent friendship; to their interests, a fixed attachment. They stimulate their hopes; commend their efforts ; prefer them to their rivals; and praise the spirit and ingenuity, which they discover in the commission of crimes.
To these persons, in the character of friends, the novice has united himself as a companion. Their esteem, therefore, and their good will, are by this very union invested with high impor.
To stand well with them, is often thought to be an enviable distinction: and whatever they say makes of course a dangerous impression on the inexperienced heart. To their example, their arguments, their exhortations, and their flatteries, the novice in iniquity submits at first with little resistance; and ultimately yields himself up without a struggle.
Fifthly. Sinners encourage their companions to sin by Ridicule. Fools, we are informed, make a mock at sin; and, it may
be added with truth, at virtue also. Against both these great objects, and every thing connected with them, is the ridicule of such men assiduously directed. As far as is in their power, they laugh religion, duty, the Christian character, parental authority, parental tenderness, filial piety and conscientiousness, the denunciations of the Scriptures, a future retribution, and, in a word, all serious thoughts, persons, and things, out of countenance. To overcome the stripling's reluctance to any sin, they tell him, that he has done other things which were as bad, or worse ; and that it is contemptible to stagger at small things after he has perpetrated greater. At his scruples they sneer. At his apprehensions they smile. Detection, they assure him, is impossible; or, at least, incredible; and punishment and perdition, mere tales of wonder, repeated with no other design, than to frighten children away from pleasure. They further inform him, that, whatever may be true of some sins, that, which is proposed by them in any given case, is either no sin at all, or a mere trifle undeserving of the least serious regard. At the same time they hiss at all the cautions, warnings and injunctions, of parents, ministers and magis. trates, as mere bugbears; believed by none of those who utter them, and employed merely to compel the obedience of the
young and ignorant, and make the task of governing easy to themselves. All things of this nature they declare have never been believed, except by children and fools: while all wise and sagacious men have derided them from the beginning. Weak and silly people, they observe, have always been priest-ridden, and conscience-ridden: just as they have believed in dreams, and trembled at ghosts and spectres: while men of sense have laughed at them all; and, boldly challenging their own rights, have with a noble independence of mind turned all these goblins out of doors, and seized resolutely upon the genuine pleasures of life. These and the like things, uttered in the language of sneer, and with airs of contempt and derision, are usually taught with a sure and controlling efficacy. Few, even among men, are proof against the shafts of ridicule. We cannot wonder, that youths should become an easy prey.
3dly. Sinners communicate the Spirit of sinning to each other.
The love of sin exists in every child of Adam as a powerful propensity; and by means of the social, sympathetic spirit of man is easily set on fire. Whatever things are thus told, the heart is prepared to believe, because it wishes to believe them. The snare is ventured upon, because it is pleasant. The temptation is the apple of the Manchineel; beautiful to the eye, fragrant to the smell, and delightful to the taste; but conveying a deadly poison to the veins. It is the song of the Sirens; charming the heedless mariner to shipwreck, on the fatal shore. It is the cup of Circe ; delighting the palate with its sweets ; but changing him who drinks of it, into a brute. In the midst of companions; amid gaiety, sport, mutual encouragements, and mutual solicitations, it becomes a spell ; enchants the eye ; and fascinates the heart. Cast your eyes upon a mob. What has called them together? What has roused their passions ? What has generated their violences ? Not one in a hundred can answer these questions. Some trifling cause of no moment gathered, perhaps, a little cluster at first. Others joined them, merely because they saw this collection. Then others, and others still, till, finally, we see them become a multitude. Some then
cry one thing, and some another; as at Ephesus in the time of the Apostles ; "for the assembly is confused, and the greater part know not wherefore they have come together." Yet the passions rage; the soul is set on fire ; and acts of violence, which none of them, separately, would liave perpetrated or even devised, are done, merely because the spark in one bosom was caught by another, and another; and the flame broke out with the fury of a conflagration.
In a manner, generally corresponding with this, the sympathetic spirit in evil companions spreads from breast to breast ; and becomes more vigorous by every interchange. Under its influence all help each other to sin ; and, taking each other by the hand, are mutually led onward to perdition.
4thly. While sinners are employed in the company of each other, they lose all the benefit, which they might have derived from better instructions, examples, and motives.
This at the first glance may seem a trifling loss. A little reflection will prove it to be incalculable. A youth in this seminary would hardly think himself censurable, much less believe himself in danger of suffering any serious evil, from spending one hour of the twenty-four in what he, perhaps, would call agreeable company, but what is, in truth, too often the very company, which I have described. Yet this would amount to at least a twelfth part of the whole time, customarily devoted to the business of life by very industrious men; and probably to at least a sixth of what such a youth would employ in this manner. Of
proper time for business therefore, it would occupy two months every year. But if he spend one hour at the beginning, he will soon consume three ; or half the busy time of the year; by obvious consequence half of the busy period of his own life. When we subduct the seasons of sleep, of our meals, of our exercise, of our occupation in nameless, trifling pursuits, the remainder will be found much less than any man, who has not calculated with exactness, would be persuaded to believe. The portion of time, devoted to such company, therefore, soon becomes a formidable consideration by its amount.
But, when such company has been frequented for a season, it is often, and in the ordinary course of things usually, frequented with little intermission. Look at those people, who resort to Smiths' shops, hang about corners, and lounge in markets; and you will find them almost always at their post, wasting away life in laziness and sin. There is scarcely a habit, which is more powerful, or more absolutely immoveable.
From this source there is always much time, often the greatest part, and sometimes the whole, of that which we can devote to the great concerns of life, lost either in the company itself, or in anticipating, or remembering, the conversation, the conduct, and the sin. By a wise employment of these seasons, the useful business of life might be effectually accomplished ; ample provision made for its comfort ; an honourable reputation acquired ; the Bible read; the closet frequented ; the moral state of the man explored and understood, by a faithful employment of the great duty of self-examination ; the best resolutions formed; the best courses of life pursued ; and the soul secured in a title to eternal life. What a difference in the modes of life, in the character, and in the destiny of the man ?
5thly. In this manner sinners exclude themselves from better company.
Men of worth, who are of course men of reputation, are, from mere self-defence, obliged to refuse the company of those, who are often found with the gross and profligate. At the same time, they reject all familiar intercourse with such men from disgust; from the mere influence of taste; and shun it from a sense of duty, and from a prudent regard to their own safety. Every person may unite himself to the society of the wise and good, if he pleases; but he must resort to no other. If he betakes himself to evil companions; they will soon be of necessity his only companions.
The first clause in the verse, from which the text is taken, is ; "He, that walketh with wise men, shall be wise." Consider for a moment the nature, the value, and the extent, of this declaration. Think what it is to be wise in the sense of the Scriptures ;
to be approved by God; and to be accepted by him beyond the grave. Then, ponder the loss incurred by those, who either can not, or will not, walk with wise men.
But this immense benefit is voluntarily renounced, and finally lost, by the companion of fools. Their instructions, their admonitions, their reproofs, their example, the wisdom which they utter, and the virtue which they exhibit, he relinquishes for the profaneness, the sophistry, the falsehood, and the profligacy, of his companions in sin. In a word, he loses all the good, and suffers all the evil, which men usually do to each other.
In these several ways, sinners by frequenting each others company advance faster, than they otherwise could advance, in iniquity of every kind. Each encourages his companion in sin ; and strengthens the heart and the hands to every guilty perpetration.
From their first introduction to evil companions, and their first resort to the places where they are found, endless multitudes date all their predominant sinful desires, all their gross crimes, and all their fatal habits. In such resorts drunkenness almost invariably begins to form and rivet its dominion over man; and commences the Circean process of changing him into a brute. No man becomes a drunkard in his closet. Companions are necessary to begin this sin in all men. At the social board, and amidst gay and festive companions, is the taste for strong drink created ; and here only is it converted from a relish into a habit. The sight of others, the example of others, the sympathy roused by the company of others, only, can persuade men to drown property, health, reason, reputation, and life, in a cup; or to bury conscience, duty, hope, and salvation, in the mire of swine.
Here the young, unguarded victim first begins the thought, the admission, the course and the habit of fraud; and the pursuit of those gratifications, which in his view render the fraud neces. sary. Here the frequency of fraud becomes the means of subduing the reproofs of conscience. Here in the progress of sin, the miserable wretch of a cheat becomes a thief; and prepares himself alike for the jail, the gibbet, and the world of perdition.